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The Virtual Re-creation of the World

Fr. Vasile Catalin Tudora

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Reflections on technology and communion.

"My name is Vasile. I am a technology addict." So might start a group therapy session at Technology Addiction Anonymous. And this is no fiction because technology penetrates our daily lives with an unstoppable force pushing us in a place where only the toughest survive. If you don't have an iPhone, you don't use Facebook or Twitter you are not just old school but "seriously," you do not exist! If your friends don't know where you are and what you're doing every other minute then how can you go on with your life?

The social networking technology reinvents the world and the communication between people. Our grandparents, less than a century ago had to wait weeks or months at a time to receive news from a friend on the other side of the world. Today doesn't matter if you are in Japan and you talk with someone in America or Europe, it is all instant, broad-band communication.

The recent Iranian election conflict is a perfect example of social networking at its best with reporters, banned to use cameras or computers, sending real-time news to the world via Twitter on their cell phones. Thing went so far that even the U.S. State Department had to contact the social networking service to urge it to delay a planned upgrade that would have cut daytime service to Iranians using Twitter to send reports to the outside. Pretty cool isn't it?

Along with the boom of social networking the virtualization of our lives takes also worrisome proportions. One can live today in a virtual world as a mighty warrior in World of Warcraft, an astute penguin on Penguin.com or a fuzzy pet on Webkinz.com. In corporate training there are now educational games where you can actually play a virtual character performing, guess what: precisely your real job! Moreover there exist now virtual religious communities, where people reinvent themselves as pious characters attending regularly an internet church that offers customized, computer generated, private "just for you" services that supposedly fit your needs. Just "google" it and you'll see I'm not making things up.

The internet and all the new communication technologies were designed initially with the aspiration to bring people together, to enhance human interactions. Technically this goal was achieved with more and more people being connected to each other via informational hubs. However, along with this concentration on virtual encounters, the genuine face to face relationships continue to suffer. Many times people find themselves isolated in a dark room with a computer on, in contact with the virtual world but disconnected from one another. They are skilled citizens of their favorite fictional world where they are courageous, smart, attractive, even possessing super-powers; but many of them are clueless on how to use their God given gifts in the real world.

Of course for some this is the reason why they escape in the virtual realm in the first place, because they find it difficult to integrate in the real world. This is particularly true during teenage years when assimilation into society hits the young people. Evading from your problems however, in a fantasy world really does not solve the problem: you are still going to be the same in the real world. On the contrary wasting your time trying to be a skilled "virtual-you" will only decrease your chances of becoming a better "real-you."

To live in the real world takes courage but didn't Jesus Christ say: "In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!" (John 16:33)? We cannot recreate the world, but we can make it a better place by staying connected with Christ. We cannot change other people, we cannot eliminate poverty, suffering and death, but we can start by initiating transformation within ourselves. Working diligently on achieving the likeness of God will ensure our integration in the greatest reality: the reality of the Kingdom.

Life is not a game, we don't get to try three times, we don't get bonus points, but as hard as reality may seem, we have access to a lot of help; all we have to do is ask. As Christians we don't live isolated, but together, in unity: face to face, shoulder to shoulder, soul to soul, connected to the only port that can power us with what we long for, eternal life. The Church brings us all together in a community greater than anything man could imagine: the body of Christ. Is the community of the Angels, the community of the Saints, it is the everlasting happiness of being with the Creator, partaking into what was prepared for us from the beginning of the world.

Without paying monthly membership fees for "full gaming experience" in the authentic experience of the Divine Liturgy we can actually see the kingdom of God, hear the choir of the angels, smell the fragrance of salvation, share a brotherly kiss and fill our mouths with the taste of Christ. One does not need special computer skills to do so, no broadband or fast processors, only will to engage in communion.

Don't let me be misunderstood; technology is good but only for as long as it is used as a tool. It cannot replace ourselves; it cannot reinvent who we are, it only helps us do things better and faster. I am certain that the Fathers of the Church would have sent their epistles by e-mail if they had it available; they would have used a text editor to write their treatises, but I doubt they would have abandoned this world to live in a fairy tale, or trade communion for social networking and salvation for an extra virtual life.

This is why, in the end, the peril does not lie in technology itself, but rather in the inability of Man to perceive the purpose of creation. Man was given the gift of technology to free time for salvation not to waste even more time on technology and ignore salvation.

In his quest for the next technological breakthrough Man is missing the ontological truth that lies deep inside him, under layers and layers of self sufficiency. The truth that Man already knows, but refuses to accept: the truth that God does exist and Man's existence is fundamentally linked with His. By understanding just this simple fact our future is reset and opens up to possibilities beyond imagination.

Fr. Vasile Catalin Tudora pastors St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Euless, Texas, and edits the Gladsome Light Dialogues blog

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